Dust mites vs bed bugs

Dust mites vs bed bugs: both are troublesome and both can end up in your bed.  But which is giving you allergy symptoms?

Around 10% of the world’s population is allergic to dust mites. And up to 90% of people with allergic lower respiratory symptoms are sensitized to dust mites. Less is known about the prevalence of bed bug allergy. But bed bugs have been undergoing a worldwide resurgence since the 1990s.

If you’ve been scratching your head (or chest) wondering if dust mites or bed bugs are causing your itch, read on to learn more about their differences and similarities.

Dust mites vs bed bugs: How can I tell them apart?

Dust mites and bed bugs have a lot in common. But there are some key differences:

Is one bigger than the other?

The differences in size between dust mites and bed bugs makes it easier to tell them apart.

Dust mites vs bed bugs
Dust mites Bed bugs

Dust mites are roughly 0.01 inches long. They are microscopic creatures and are only visible to the human eye with a microscope. Dust mites also have eight legs like spiders, this makes them arachnids, not insects.

Bed bugs vary between 0.04in and 0.25in long, dependent on their age. An adult bed bug is roughly the size of an apple seed. Unlike dust mites, you should be able to see bed bugs with the naked eye. Bed bugs have six legs, this makes them insects.

Do they both bite?

Signs of bitemarks can help you identify whether your symptoms are dust mite or bed bug related.

Dust mites vs bed bugs
Dust mites Bed bugs

Dust mites don’t bite, it’s a myth. Instead, dust mites feed on your shed dead skin.

Bed bugs do bite as your blood is their source of food. A bed bug bite typically causes an itchy pigmented bump. Sometimes these bumps can be bigger than 0.4in. However, some people don’t show any signs of bites at all.

Where do they live?

Dust mites and bed bugs can live in the same places. Bed bugs have recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the US.

Dust mites vs bed bugs
Dust mites Bed bugs

Unlike bed bugs, dust mites don’t have to live in places where there is direct contact with human skin. After all, they feed on dead skin cells that humans and pets naturally shed. Dust mites can live in upholstered furniture, mattresses, stuffed toys and carpets. They simply thrive in areas where dead skin and dust accumulates.

Bed bugs prefer dark crevices; think mattresses or gaps in bed frames. Also, it doesn’t matter if your mattress has box springs or is made from memory foam, they’re not fussy. In fact, you can find bed bugs wherever people sit or sleep. Don’t forget humans are a tasty blood meal. So bed bugs need to be in direct contact with your skin. You may also notice reddish brown waste stains where they live. Or see their shed shells. Your room may also smell slightly musty or stale wherever the bed bugs are.

Timing of symptoms

Bed bug and dust mite symptoms can strike at different times of the day.

Dust mites vs bed bugs
Dust mites Bed bugs

With dust mite allergy you experience an allergic reaction to dust mite waste and their shed skin. This means your symptoms will likely be persistent.

Bed bugs tend to feed at night.  New bites may show after 24 hours but can take up to two weeks to develop. Generally, bed bugs are also nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day.

Allergies are an overreaction of your immune system

Speak to your healthcare provider if you’ve got a rash or any other symptoms, especially if you aren’t sure what’s causing them. They’ll want a detailed account of your symptoms, how long they last and your medical history. They’ll also want to know if allergies run in your family.

Dust mite allergy can be identified by using allergy testing, such as skin prick or blood tests. Bed bug allergy may also be diagnosed with a prick test. The results need to be interpreted by your healthcare provider.

Bed bug bites can be hard to pinpoint because they have a similar appearance to mosquito and flea bites. You may be able to self-diagnose if you’ve got marks and found evidence of bed bugs. For example, discarded shell casings and reddish waste stains on your mattress. But if you’re not sure what’s caused the bite marks or have developed a skin infection you should speak to your healthcare provider. Enlarged bite marks and painful swellings are typical indicators of bed bug allergy. In some rare instances though, the bites can cause an anaphylactic response. That is, a severe systemic allergic reaction which can be life-threatening.

Dust mites vs bed bugs symptoms

Dust mite allergy symptoms

Dust mites often cause the following symptoms:

  • Itchy eyes (which may feel gritty)
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Dry or sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin reactions, such as rashes or eczema

More on dust mite
allergy symptoms

Man blowing his nose at his desk. Dust mites can cause sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose but bed bugs usually don’t.

Hay fever or pollen allergy

  • Swollen bite marks – these may appear several days afterwards
  • They can be in a straight line or random
  • Often darker in the middle
  • Itching

Other symptoms of bed bugs may include:

  • Secondary skin infections (caused by excessive scratching)
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Treatments for dust mite allergy and bed bug bites

Dust mites and bed bugs can be treated with similar medication. Antihistamines and corticosteroids can ease both dust mite allergy symptoms and bed bug bites. Usually, bed bug bites go away on their own after one or two weeks.

For dust mite allergy there are additional treatment options. Decongestants, for example, can help improve a stuffy nose, but should only be used for a short amount of time. For dust mite allergy that doesn't respond well to medication, immunotherapy could be an alternative treatment. It's a long-term option that aims to tackle the cause of your allergy with repeated tiny doses of your trigger. The goal is fewer symptoms and less need for allergy medication.

Speak to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about what could be the most suitable treatment for you. Some treatments may need a prescription or further assessment from an allergist. Our Find a doctor tool can help you search for one nearby.

Can bed bugs and dust mites transmit diseases?

Neither bed bugs nor dust mites are known to spread disease. While bed bug bites are insect bites they’re not usually as harmful as, for example, a mosquito bite. Mosquito bites transmit a range of viruses, including Zika and dengue.

Quote Image

Dust mites and bed bugs can live in the same places. Bed bugs have recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the US.

How do I remove dust mites and bedbugs from my home?

There are several ways to reduce dust mites and remove bed bugs from your home.

Dust mites

To reduce the number of dust mites in your home you can consider doing the following:

1. Get a dehumidifier: Dust mites thrive at 75% humidity and will still grow, more slowly, over 50% humidity. They cannot survive below 50% humidity. Controlling humidity levels is an incredibly important part of dust mite management.

2. Use dust-mite proof bedding: Certain brands sell mattress and pillow covers, quilts and pillows that are very effective at keeping dust mites out.

3. Run your washing machine on a hot cycle: Wash bedding regularly in hot water. Ideally at 120F (49C) but a lower temperature can still get rid of lots of bugs.

4. Use a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner: Getting a HEPA filter for your vacuum cleaner will help trap dust mites and their waste. Thoroughly vacuum at least once a week. Robot vacuums can lessen the workload, but we recommend using one in combination with a bigger vacuum as they fill up quickly.

5. Regularly dust and wipe surfaces: Dust particles take up to half an hour to settle once disturbed. This can trigger allergy symptoms, so wear a mask when dusting. Damp cloths trap dust instead of putting it into the air, so are better than a duster.

Bed bugs

If you have bed bugs, then it’s time to call pest control or an exterminator. Like other pests, bed bugs are often treated with insecticide spray. Bed bugs are normally found in bedrooms and are usually transported to different places as you travel because they hide in the folds of luggage, overnight bags and so on.

What is allergy

Man and woman embracing in the forest. Allergy immunotherapy may be able to help you live a life freer of allergy symptoms.

Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are the most common insecticides used to control bed bugs. Pyrethrins are extracted from chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethroids are artificial. Both can kill infestations but, if the bed bugs develop resistance, they might only work temporarily. 

Other products include acid, biochemicals and insect growth regulators. Varying the chemicals used may also reduce the risk of resistance. Pest control also has non-chemical methods to remove bed bugs, for example heat treatments.

These are bed bug removal methods you can try at home:

  1. Drying clothing on a high heat: This might kill some of the bugs on bedding, but probably not all.
  2. Steaming mattresses: The temperature must be at least 130F (54C) and the steamer should not have a forceful airflow. This can cause bed bugs to disperse.
  3. Using bed bug traps: Place them under the legs of furniture. This helps to prevent bed bugs from climbing up chairs and beds.


Practically all homes have dust mites. It’s not known how common bed bug infestations are, but they’re spreading – and fast. You may be able to tell the difference between the pests by their size, where they live and your symptoms.

Antihistamines and corticosteroids can help with dust mite allergy and bed bug bites. Minimizing dust mite numbers and removing bed bugs from your home are good ways to avoid symptoms. Regularly washing your bedding in hot water and drying clothes with heat can help with this.

We’re here for you
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article about dust mites vs bed bugs, thank you. We’d love to know what you think. If you have any questions or would like to share tips on how you get rid of dust mites or bed bugs, you can email us. Or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
klarify takes allergy science and makes it simple, and we have rigorous process for doing this. We use up-to-date and authoritative sources of information. Medical experts review our content before we share it with you. They and the klarify editorial team strive to be accurate, thorough, clear and objective at all times. Our editorial policy explains exactly how we do this.